Bejewelled Fingertips: The Fad of the Moment: 1903

jeweled fingertips


New York, June 19, 1903

The latest fad among American fashionables is the jeweled finger tip. Only the most precious gems may be used in this novel decoration—the flashing diamond, the expensive and popular emerald, and the fiery ruby, the old-fashioned sapphire—these four and their equally valuable sisters find favor in milady’s eyes when she goes a-hunting for her finger-nail jewels.

The bewitching Mabel Gilman, who knows so well the power of the hand over the human heart, first introduced this now popular fad. She was entertaining right royally in a fashionable Chicago hotel when she displayed her jeweled finger tips for the first time. Handsomely cut diamonds of the first water flashed alluringly from two fingers and thumb on each hand, and within seven days the news had swept North, South, East, and West, and now no debutante, belle, society leader, or fashionable chaperon considers her toilet complete without a jewel or two set at the very tip of her rosy pink, almond-shaped nails.

Sets for Different Gowns.

To be most effective the little gems must be worn on ringless fingers, and they flash from the snowy whiteness of a well-shaped hand in a most charming manner. The ultra-fashionable girl with an elastic bank account has as many sets of finger-tip jewels as she has colored gowns. For the white and the pink gown there is the diamond, which shows both these colors in its flashings. With the green gown there goes the emerald; blue takes with it the sapphire, and for red there is the ruby. The topaz is appropriate for the yellow gown, and for the violet there is the amethyst.

The nails must go through a course of treatment preparatory to the setting of the gems. They are allowed to grow to an Oriental length and are filed each day until they become quite strong and pliable at the tips. When the nail has been doctored until it has become tough enough to permit the operator to work on it without injuring in any way the smooth pink surface, milady hies herself to her “doighteer”—not manicurist, if you please—and her ten rosy-tipped fingers go under the knife.

A sharp-pointed knife, a tiny file and an instrument resembling a small corkscrew are the implements used. A circle the size of the gem to be set is traced with the point of the knife on the finger nail, and inside of this the nail is filed down as thin as possible, then, with the point of the corkscrew-like instrument a tiny hold is bored through to the flesh. A healing salve is rubbed in and milady goes home with very much marred nails, but with a pleasant little thrill over thoughts of the morrow.


On the succeeding day she pays another visit to her doighteer, and, unless the indenture made on the previous day is very angry looking, the ring gems are produced and one by one inserted.

The little glistening stones are rubbed to a state of perfect cleanliness and brilliancy, and with a fine camel’s hair brush transparent wax-like glue is spread lightly over the extreme point and the edges of the jewel. While this is being done an assistant brushes the glue lightly over the entire surface of the nail, dropping a little in the cavity. The gem is then placed carefully into the prepared hollow and a close-fitting shield is quickly adjusted over the entire nail. The “patient” may then go home and after a night’s rest be ready to blazon forth in the new beauty of bejeweled finger tips.

After the first setting it is an easy matter to replace one set of jewels with another. The nail around the little hollow scooped out becomes tough after a few weeks and holds the jewels firmly. About twice a month the hollow must be filed clear of all growths and the skin which is apt to appear above it clipped away. This is not at all painful, the first operation causing a sensation somewhat like the pricking of a pin. There is small doubt, however, but milady would smilingly endure twice the amount of pain for the sake of the result

After the gems have been set once or twice a skilled maid can change the stones with ease, the only danger being in putting the work in the hands of a novice that the gems may not be firmly set, and there is a danger of the jewels slipping out.

No Injury From Washing.

As pearls are not used in this new hand decoration no injury to the jewels results from washing the hands with the gems in. After a warm bath, however, it is always well to have the stones tested, as the warm water may soften the glue with which the gems are held in place, and there is a probability of losing them unless they are tested.

The cost of this new fad is not so great as may be first imagined. Diamonds the size available for insertion into the nails, can be procured for from $10 to $25 apiece, and the usual cost of having them inserted is $2 per gem. When a different set for each gown is needed, however, an entire outfit represents a good round sum.

The gems vary in size, and consequently in cost, according to the size of the nail in which they are to be placed. The cutting of these nail jewels is an art in itself, as is “doighteering,” a new profession. The little stones must be cut in a very different manner from those worn in brooches or rings. As the hollow into which they are sunk must of necessity be but small the exposed surface measures many times the diameter of the sunken point. They are cut almost triangular in shape, the apex narrowing down to the finest possible point. Those who follow the fad to the extreme, wear diamonds the exposed surface of which has a diameter about the size of a jewel weighting one full carat. These gems are very expensive, for they have to be cut from a two-carat stone, and are shaved off in a most delicate manner. Gems of this size as yet have never been seen on any except the second finger and thumb, the remaining fingers usually having nails too delicate to permit of the insertion of so much weight. The regulation size, however, is one fourth of a carat.

Worn By Ambassador’s Wife

The latest development of the fad was seen at a large reception recently at the Capitol. A well-known society matron, wife of a Foreign Ambassador, had tiny diamonds set in a semicircle, close to the cuticle of each nail, and when she moved her hands, as she does in a most expressive manner when talking, they scattered sparks of fire in every direction. It has been hinted that this nail jewel may supplant the solitaire which Cupid has made famous, but this is doubtful; the superstition centered about the engagement ring has too firm a hold on the feminine, and on the masculine mind, too, for that matter, to allow a fad of the hour to step in and interfere.

One point in recommendation of the fad is that the operation, if performed by a skilled deighteer, does not in any way injure the nail. Milady will, of course, be obliged to wear her tiny jewels until the place where the cavity was made grows out to the tip of the finger, then it can be nicely trimmed and the nail appears as it did before it was made ready for the jewels.

The growing of the nails, of course, alters the position of the jewels, and as they gradually move outward toward the ned of the fingers they must be watched very closely. As soon as they reach the point where the nail can be cut they must be taken out, the nail trimmed and the hollow made further down. This digging into the nail stunts their growth somewhat, and usually it is not necessary to have a new incision made oftener than every two months.

Perhaps these bejeweled fingernails may account somewhat for the sudden popularity of fingerless gloves or mitts, as the dear old great-aunts called them, for who can blame milady for hesitating to cover up her ten bewitching, bejeweled fingers. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 June 1903: p. B2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If a “skilled maid” is able to cope with madam’s hair and tempers, she may surely handle this ostentatious and vulgar fad with aplomb. Every lady’s maid is well-acquainted with the use of tweezers, wax, and adhesives.  And if a corkscrew is necessary, why, one only needs to ask the butler. Mrs Daffodil wonders why it is necessary to go to all this trouble for an effect equalled or bettered by a dazzling jewel-box of rings, but some ladies seem to believe that the more trouble, the higher the fashion.   

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about the dazzling diamonds of the lady dentist, set into teeth, here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a jewel-box of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

3 thoughts on “Bejewelled Fingertips: The Fad of the Moment: 1903

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  3. Pingback: Jewel-set Gloves: 1896-1899 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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